The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 705 — June 23 - July 14, 2003

Medicare "Reform" - In the Service of Big Business

Jun 23, 2003

The U.S. House and Senate have each passed a version of a Medicare "reform" bill, aimed, so they say, at providing drug coverage to seniors and other people covered by Medicare.

Like other Medicare provisions, the drug coverage is incredibly complicated – but one thing comes out very clear: the majority of Medicare recipients will pay MORE money into the program than they will get back in drug coverage. Under the Senate version, you must pay out $695 a year in premiums and deductibles ($670 in the House version) before you see even one cent from Medicare for your prescriptions. Beyond that, in both versions, Medicare will not pick up much of your drug costs until after you have paid $3700 a year out of your own pocket.

This is hardly a "reform" – if by "reform" we mean an improvement for the population. No, this so-called "reform" aims not at improving life for the population, but at improving profits for a large number of corporations.

Large companies whose pension plan provides drug benefits are applauding this "reform." Of course. Part of their costs will now be picked up by Medicare, whose insurance premiums will be paid for by the retirees, not by the big companies. The auto companies, with contracts coming up this year, couldn't be more pleased. This reform will let them shift money out of their pension's medical plan. And, by contrast to the rest of Medicare, the companies pay no contribution into the program at all.

Insurance companies will benefit. Arguing that private industry is more efficient than bureaucratic-laden government, the politicians designated the private, for-profit insurance industry to administer the new program, just as it today administers Medicare. This blatant lie about private industry efficiency has been disproved many times over by Canada, whose nationalized medical insurance system, run by the government, uses up only 9% of the total cost of health care in administrative costs. In the United States, where the private insurance industry administers the medical care system, such costs average out to 20% of total health care costs. It couldn't be otherwise. Not only do all the different companies mean duplication and thus waste of money. The aim of private insurance companies that administer the program is not to extend medical care to more people, but to skim off as much of the proceeds of Medicare as they can for their own profit.

The pharmaceutical industry, whose profits are already the highest in the country, are already salivating at the thought of even bigger profits. There's nothing in this so-called "reform" that would limit the prices the industry charges – prices which are often twice as high as what these same companies charge in Canada, which controls prices somewhat.

Medicare was brought into being as one answer to the vast social movements of the 1960s. At the beginning, coverage for medical procedures used by seniors was nearly full. But as profit-making industries put their talons more deeply into the program, and as the receding of social movements emboldened the bosses, prices and profits skyrocketed. The government responded with "reform" after "reform" of the system to control costs – not by controlling prices and profits but by reducing what Medicare would pay for and by increasing premiums and deductibles, year after year.

As a result, seniors pay more and more of their medical expenses themselves. Today, even with Medicare, seniors pay out a MUCH BIGGER SHARE of their retirement income on medical expenses than they did before Medicare existed.

The government "reformed" away most of the benefits of the program for the population, leaving only the benefits to the medical care and insurance industries.

This new "reform" is just another trick for turning medical care into an even bigger cash cow for big business.

The U.S. continues to be way behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to medical care. In this, the wealthiest country in the world, we pay much MORE for medical care than do ordinary working people in other countries, and we get much LESS back for it.

This will not be changed by one more fake "reform." The one thing which can challenge this situation is the same thing that forced the government to establish Medicare in the 1960s, or Social Security and Unemployment insurance in the 1930s: social movements of the working population demanding that their needs be met.

Working people before us confronted these same profit-making bosses and their government. Not only did they show that it was possible, through their struggles, to put their hands on some of those profits, using them for the benefit of the whole laboring population. They showed that such struggles are the only way that something beneficial can be won.

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Shades of Enron!

Jun 23, 2003

Shades of Enron! Natural gas companies have declared a "shortage" and are hiking prices. For example, the two Michigan gas companies have just hit residential customers with price hikes of up to 40%. Of course they hiked the price in summer so that it wouldn't look so big. But wait until this coming winter, when the gas bill that was $100 last year will now be $140!

Natural gas producers say that stocks are low, so prices have to go up. How often haven't we heard this line! As if the companies are not capable of managing their affairs. In fact, as the Enron scandal proved, they are only too capable of managing their affairs – in the direction of very profitable scams. It was Enron which led the electricity companies in proclaiming a disastrous shortage of electricity and enormous price hikes that nearly bankrupted California – until Enron's conspiracy with other companies to manipulate the market was revealed.

We can recall that one of the chief players in the Enron scandal was the El Paso Corporation, an energy trader and pipeline company which also played up an alleged natural gas "shortage" but quietly dropped it when the Enron affair got too hot. Now they and their sort are back with another "shortage."

The CEO of EnCana, a pipeline company in Canada, anticipates a 2.5% rise in cash flow for every 10-cent rise in gas prices. He commented, "This is the strategy payoff we have been anticipating for many years."

Have a nice short - very short - vacation

Jun 23, 2003

People who have worked all year should be able to enjoy some time off from the job. But many workers in the U.S. get no paid vacation whatsoever; and those who do, don't get enough.

According to a recent book, "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life," the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world without paid vacation laws. In addition to U.S. workers not having a legal right to any vacation at all, "we also have the shortest vacations in the world, and they're getting even shorter."

The International Labor Organization reports that Americans work 8 to 10 more weeks a year in total hours than workers in European countries. And in this period of an economic downturn, some workers, fearful of their job security, don't even take the vacation time they are entitled to!

Yes, it's summertime, but the "livin'ain't easy," for millions of workers in the richest country in the world.

Benton Harbor protests long-term injustice

Jun 23, 2003

The people of Benton Harbor, Michigan took to the streets for two straight nights after a young black man was killed in a police chase on Monday, June 16. The man who was killed, Terrance Shurn, was apparently speeding on his motorcycle, when he was chased by white police officers from two different police departments from outside of Benton Harbor. One police car from Benton Township chased Shurn into the city of Benton Harbor. Dozens of witnesses said the police knocked Shurn off of his motorcycle, causing his death, although the police claim Shurn drove into a building.

About 100 people first took their protest to two meetings, the Benton Harbor City Commission meeting on Monday night, and the Benton Township meeting on Tuesday. When they didn't get any answers to their protests, people then took to the streets, setting abandoned buildings on fire and destroying some police cars. When police tried to hold a press conference, people threw rocks and bottles at them. The rebellion lasted for two nights and involved 300 to 400 people.

The Benton Harbor residents are upset about continued police harassment, especially by police from outside the city of Benton Harbor. A couple of years ago, an 11-year-old boy was run down by police, also from Benton Township. Township police are mostly white. One resident, Evette Taylor, said, "They harass us, they pull us over for nothing. We're fed up." She added, "This was just the one that pushed us over the edge. This was the straw that broke the camel's back."

The area, on Lake Michigan, was once a resort area that drew people from across the lake in Chicago to its beaches, amusement parks, and hotels. As industry grew, black workers migrated to Benton Harbor to find work. The area was home to the headquarters and the main factory of the Whirlpool corporation, as well as a Bendix brake plant and the Zenith Company, among others. But plants began to close down, jobs were lost, poverty grew. Today, unemployment stands at 25%.

Throughout the 1960s, white people moved out of Benton Harbor to St. Joseph, leaving Benton Harbor with a higher and higher black population and increasingly poorer. Benton Harbor's school system is in poor shape. Residents also complain that there is little for their kids to do, as all of the movie theaters and entertainment spots have moved out of the city. The city has a high teen pregnancy rate.

You still hear echoes of the 1991 death of a 16-year-old from Benton Harbor, whose body was found in the St. Joseph River. It was the subject of a book, called The Other Side of the River, by Alex Kotlowitz. The teen, Eric McGinnis, was last seen being chased by a white man from St. Joseph, whose car he had supposedly broken into. The man was never charged, but to this day, most people in Benton Harbor believe he killed McGinnis.

The people of Benton Harbor are right to have made their anger known. Already in the few days after the so-called rioting occurred, Michigan's Governor Jennifer Granholm paid a visit, promising to come up with programs for the city. Even Whirlpool Corporation is "looking into" what it can do.

Now that the people of Benton Harbor have made their voices heard, suddenly the politicians and bosses sit up and take notice of the problems. But there's no quick fix for the conditions faced by the people of Benton Harbor. The economy and racial tensions in Benton Harbor have festered for decades. The people of Benton Harbor will need to keep organizing and fighting if they want to see real change.

Road damage:
We pay in many ways

Jun 23, 2003

A non-profit national traffic association released a study surveying car damage from bad roads in U.S. cities.

The study rated one-fourth of all U.S. urban roads as "in bad repair."

The study calculated the average car repair bill paid by each and every urban car owner each year, due to damage from using these poor roads. The numbers are high:

<$706 per year in L.A.

<$705 per year in San Jose

<$674 per year in San Francisco

<$667 per year in San Diego

<$621 per year in Detroit.

States don't repair roads because so much money is siphoned off to pay the enormous cost of military contracts, corporate gifts, and tax cuts to the wealthy.

Our car repair bills are only one more casualty of this continual diversion of money to the wealthy.

Lies told by the Texas legislators

Jun 23, 2003

At the end of May, the Texas legislature passed a new law which further restricts women's access to abortion. The state of Texas already required women to wait 24 hours after requesting an abortion. But doctors are now required to tell women they face serious risks if they have an abortion – including the outrageous claim that abortion could lead to breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society says these claims are patently untrue. "Nobody seriously believes this," says a Houston physician. The head of Planned Parenthood in Amarillo, Texas says of the Texas legislators, "It's like talking to the Flat Earth Society."

It's politicians like these who have encouraged terrorists to attack abortion clinics and shoot doctors and others who work at the clinics. In Texas, as the result of politicians' actions and terrorist threats, there are only 15 counties out of 254 where doctors still can be found to provide abortions.

Not only do women in Texas have to travel long distances to find a doctor when they need an abortion. They have to wait overnight, while worrying about a non-existent risk of cancer.

Every poll taken shows that the vast majority in this country want women to have the legal right to choose an abortion.

It's no surprise that these legislators – who are fundamentally opposed to women deciding for themselves what happens to their own bodies and who regularly ignore the majority's wishes – hold the truth in contempt. Their aim is to impose reactionary 18th century views on everyone. And truth, democracy and individual rights be damned.

LAPD lets another killer cop go unpunished... quietly

Jun 23, 2003

Last month, an LAPD panel responsible for disciplining police officers quietly decided that Edward Larrigan, the cop who had shot and killed Margaret Mitchell, a homeless, mentally ill woman four years ago, need not face any punishment. This decision contradicts a previous ruling on the case made by the Los Angeles Police Commission, which is supposed to oversee policy violations in the LAPD.

The incident sparked protests, especially in the black community. As a result of this outrage, the City Council settled a lawsuit by Mitchell's family for nearly one million dollars – in itself an admission that the killing was unjustified. Within a year of the incident, the Police Commission found the shooting "out of policy" and ordered the LAPD to discipline Larrigan accordingly.

Then came the usual delaying tactics that the police department always uses to avoid punishing one of their own. The police department stalled for THREE years, supposedly deciding how to punish this trigger-happy cop. In the end, the decision was not to punish him at all, and not to announce it either – which was revealed a month later by the Los Angeles Times.

The L.A. Police Commission, whose members are appointed by the City Council, was advertised as a civilian watchdog over the police department and as a cure to police brutality. This commission was established because of community outrage at the endless cases of police brutality which cops got away with because there was no authority to punish them other than the LAPD itself.

As this incident shows, all this was nothing but a meaningless show. The Police Commission can decide whatever it wants, but it has no power to enforce its decisions. The final, and real, decision is made by a panel of two cops and one civilian – in other words, by the LAPD itself!

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Countless new ways to lie

Jun 23, 2003

Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke retired on June 20. She managed press relations for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after 9/11, during the war in Afghanistan and during the invasion of Iraq.

Rumsfeld praised her service by saying that "she has developed countless new methods to tell the story."

Which means, in Pentagon-speak, countless new ways to avoid the truth.

Keeping a step ahead of the truth

Jun 23, 2003

On June 21, the Bush administration claimed it had found an enormous cache of top-secret documents in Iraq that could be "potentially significant" for finding Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

The "find" is one more link in the chain of headlines touting some discovery that is supposed to provide the Administration with the evidence it needs to back up its stated reasons for invading Iraq. The problem with the chain is that each link disintegrates soon after being "found."

The so-called "germ trailers" are a recent example. Headlines for several days cited the discovery of two semi-trailers with equipment that supposedly could produce anthrax.

After the headlines had faded, some newspapers reported that the Administration's own top experts concluded that the trailers were not equipped for germ making at all. They were in fact mobile hydrogen generators for inflating the weather balloons used by Saddam's artillery.

Moreover, it was documented all along that Saddam's armed forces included such trailers, because a British company had sold him such a system back in l987.

But there were no series of headlines about "Germ trailers are phony." Just another new set of manufactured headlines giving the impression of proof where there is no proof.

U.N. head weapons inspector Hans Blix recently denounced the U.S. for leaning on his inspectors to overstate and slant their findings in Iraq. Blix also revealed that before the war, U.S. and British intelligence services gave U.N. inspectors hundreds of Iraq sites said to have forbidden weapons – and every single claim proved to be untrue.

But the headlines continue, and the retractions remain in the back pages and small print. What do we expect? If headlines proclaimed "Iraq invaded so U.S. businesses can profit," they would be true – but they wouldn't do Bush, his gang, or the big oil companies any good.

The war Bush declared over is heating up

Jun 23, 2003

More than two months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, U.S. and British troops still have not found a single ounce of the hundreds of tons of "weapons of mass destruction" that Bush claimed existed.

On the other hand, U.S. and British troops daily run into new pockets of resistance to their occupation of Iraq.

On June 10, two U.S. soldiers were killed in a mortar attack on a barracks located on the north side of Baghdad. The next day, June 11, an Apache helicopter, part of a search operation in eastern Baghdad, was shot down by a ground-to-air missile. On that same day in Baghdad, two U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded during a patrol, while 4,000 troops carried out the biggest operation since the fall of Baghdad in the region bordering on Syria. Among their targets was a ruined village, transformed by media propaganda into a "terrorist training camp." Forty-eight hours of bombing left 80 people dead and no survivors – no witnesses able to say what had happened. On June 14, a substantial new U.S. military operation, called "Desert Scorpion," was launched to carry out systematic searches of homes in the city of Falluja, looking for weapons. Not far from there, in Balad, a U.S. soldier was severely wounded by a sharp shooter. That same day, the flow of crude oil in the pipeline linking Kirkuk to Turkey was suddenly cut by explosions in two places. On June 17, a sniper killed a U.S. soldier in the northwest area of Baghdad, as large scale military raids by the U.S. continued. On June 18, another U.S. soldier was killed in a drive-by shooting. On June 19, a U.S. soldier was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade that hit the military ambulance in which he was traveling.

These are only the incidents that the Pentagon has revealed. How much more goes on daily which is not reported?

Pentagon officers, with the press repeating every lie, claim that these attempts of armed resistance come from the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. It's the same explanation they give today for what is happening in Afghanistan 18 months after "the end" of the war there: men and women who continue to die from U.S. bullets are supposed to be the "remnants of the Taliban."

Official propaganda is one thing and reality another. While the U.S. and British occupation troops may not be dealing with a very organized armed resistance, everything shows that most of the hostility they face comes not only from what's left of Saddam Hussein's regime but from the Iraqi population itself.

The population's hostility is shown by the failure of the U.S. high command to force the population to turn in weapons. The U.S. declared an amnesty period for turning in arms – at the end of which, a person possessing guns could be sentenced to prison. But barely a thousand weapons were turned in. Meanwhile, automatic weapons from the old regime are freely available for next to nothing in the marketplaces of Baghdad's poor neighborhoods.

The population's hostility is also shown by the demonstrations which continue to multiply in the country. On June 14, in Mosul, for example, thousands of government functionaries and former soldiers demonstrated, some to obtain the payment of their wages and others for a job. They certainly weren't all supporters of Saddam Hussein or terrorists. Nor were the more than 10,000 demonstrators who marched in Basra on Sunday June 15, demanding the election of public authorities and the repair of the public infrastructure. On June 18, former Iraqi officers and soldiers, many of whom had thrown down their arms in response to U.S. leaflets that promised they would be paid, demonstrated demanding pay and pensions. They discovered that leaflets are one thing, money another.

The more time that passes, the more the occupation troops will appear openly for what they are – security guards defending the interests of big U.S. corporations against the people of the region. The Iraqi population did not welcome these troops as liberators. As time goes on, larger and larger parts of the population can go further, becoming active partisans, fighting to force the imperialist troops to withdraw from Iraqi territory.

Iraq is an occupied country. During the Viet Nam war, the lament of U.S. soldiers was that anyone in the population might try to kill them. That's what it means to be an occupying army in someone else's country, when the population begins to fight against the occupation.

U.S. soldiers may again suffer the bitter experience that comes from doing the dirty work to help maintain an entire people in chains.

Struggle in France against pension cuts

Jun 23, 2003

We reprint here a translation of an editorial appearing in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper put out by Trotskyist comrades in France. The French government, headed by President Chirac, Prime Minister Raffarin and Social Affairs Minister Fillon, is pushing to pass a bill requiring all state-employed workers to work more years for their pensions and to accept lower benefits. Behind this bill lies the threat that all workers, public and private, will have to work even more years in the future.

In addition, the government is proposing to decentralize the education system, turning it into a replica of what we have here – which means wide disparities in the amount of money spent educating children.

In response to their proposals, public sector workers throughout France have organized a series of demonstrations, strikes and other actions. Among those striking have been teachers, railroad workers, subway and bus drivers and mechanics, post office and telephone workers and bank employees. Teachers have organized community meetings to gain the support of the pupils and their parents.

Public sector workers have gone to workplaces in the private sector to discuss their common problems.

Despite intense governmental propaganda, the protest movement against the anti-worker measures of the Chirac-Raffarin government continues. Blackmail on the question of exams didn't prevent teachers from remaining on strike and protesting. Bank workers joined the Tuesday June 17 protest, against the closing of Bank of France branches and the elimination of jobs. Public transit workers remain on strike in many areas. The unions called for a new day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, June 19.

Polls show that a majority continue to say they are against the Raffarin-Fillon bill. The right wing, using its enormous financial means, may have mobilized a few thousand demonstrators with fat savings accounts against the strikers on Sunday June 15, but the protest movement still benefits from the sympathy of the majority of the population, which means the overwhelming majority of workers.

What most upset the government during the first weeks of the movement was its tendency to get bigger and the possibility that it would threaten the private sector, in particular the biggest firms. That hasn't happened, but the simple continuation of the movement, supported by the majority of workers, is a formidable rejection for the government and a source of anxiety. As long as the embers remain alive, the fire can be rekindled and rise up in flames!

It's proof that this government governs against the aspirations and interests of the working majority of the population. Those workers who think that the struggle isn't over and who continue it are right. Their tenacity shows that the actions of the past weeks aren't a flash in the pan. After several years during which the working class received blow after blow, it has begun to raise its head and the government has to take this into account.

That's the principal result of the movement. It's all the more important for the future, since the government has no intention of stopping its anti-worker offensive. Chirac proclaimed just the opposite when he spoke of "modernizing" the health care system. We know that when the government speaks of "reform" or "modernization," it is preparing new attacks against the workers. Under the pretext of the Social Security deficit, the government and the bosses are seeking to impose deep cuts in health care expenditures and in Social Security payments.

They wish to force workers to work longer, for smaller pensions and with less health care of a poorer quality. The government, responding to the wishes of big business, has decided to force us backward. For big business, the money going for pensions, medical payments and prescription drugs for working people, like the money paying for public services useful to the population, is wasted money – costs to be eliminated so the bosses' share of the national income can be increased.

For the workers, there's nothing to be gained from the parliamentary debates and the battle to amend the government's proposals. The government has a servile majority in Parliament, ready to vote anything, including the worst. Only strikes can force it to withdraw its current anti-worker plans.

So, facing this government which bets on the end of the movement, it's necessary to show on Thursday June 19 and the days that follow that the movement isn't over and that those who remain on strike enjoy widespread support. What the government has done up to now is only a warning. If it continues its anti-worker offensive, it will end up convincing all the workers that only a general counter-punch by the world of labor can block the arm that strikes it. Workers no longer accept to be strangled simply to increase the wealth and privileges of a tiny minority of big bosses and their stockholders!

Solidarity with imprisoned worker militants!

Jun 23, 2003

We reprint here a translation of an article appearing in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper put out by Trotskyist comrades in France.

Two Chinese workers, Yao Fuxin, age 57, and Xiao Yunliang, age 54, were sentenced to seven years and four years of prison after already spending a year under arrest. In March 2002 they led workers' protests in Liaoyang, a large working class city in northeastern China.

More than 10,000 workers laid off from state enterprises had gone into the streets on March 11 and 12, 2002 to demand payment of back wages and to denounce official corruption. On March 17, Yao Fuxin, one of the representatives of the workers, who was retired from the Ferro-Alloy factory, was arrested. On March 18, 30,000 laid off workers from twenty state companies in Liaoyang demonstrated to defend their demands and to demand freedom for Yao Fuxin.

On March 19, in spite of the city being surrounded by police, 10,000 workers demonstrated again. On March 20, city authorities asked the anti-riot police and the army to occupy the city. Three other worker leaders were arrested, among whom was Xiao Yunliang. They were tried last January. Their sentences were handed down on May 11.

According to human rights organizations, since his imprisonment, the situation of Xiao Yunliang is causing a lot of concern: he is in isolation, and he is spitting up blood. He's undoubtedly lacking appropriate medical care.

Their families haven't been allowed to see the prisoners. On the contrary, they've been harassed by the police, have been ordered not to take part in any public demonstrations, nor to petition Beijing about their imprisoned family members, nor to communicate with the media.

"You accuse me of subversion, but if we demonstrated last year, it's because the workers weren't paid for twenty months and some have nothing to eat," declared Yao Fuxin to his judges during his trial last January.

Actually, the non-payment of wages is common throughly China, in particular, in public firms that are being shut by the government's drive to privatize them. A little before the workers' demonstrations of March 2002 in Liaoyang, 50,000 oil workers of Daqing City demonstrated to demand the payment of their wages.

According to official Chinese sources, there are about 14 million workers across the country who have recently demanded back wages, either workers in government firms or firms with private foreign capital, like those in the free trade zone of Shenzhen. The official unions, instead of organizing workers to defend themselves, collaborate with the public powers and the bosses. At Daqing, this is why angry oil field workers attacked the office of the union local during a protest and then went on to found an independent union.

The Chinese regime – which, despite its name has nothing to do with communism – has always repressed demonstrations and locked up worker leaders.

Solidarity with the Chinese workers and imprisoned worker militants!

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Competing with other states to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Boeing

Jun 23, 2003

Michigan is offering Boeing Corp. grants and tax credits worth 300 million dollars over 20 years for the company to build its new jetliner, the 7E7, at one of three potential sites: Willow Run Airport, Alpena County Regional Airport and Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport.

But Michigan is facing stiff competition: a dozen other states are bidding for the 7E7 plant, and some states have come up with much bigger "incentive packages." Washington state, for example, where Boeing already has two assembly lines, says that it's ready to give Boeing no less than 3.2 BILLION dollars over 20 years!

As usual, politicians say they are willing to give a big, already-profitable corporation these huge gifts for the sake of bringing jobs to their state.

Yes, a new plant would mean some new jobs, but there is no guarantee how many. The state officials themselves admit it may be anywhere between 800 and 3000 – it's Boeing who will decide how many it will be. And however many jobs a Boeing plant brings to Michigan, workers will end up paying a high price for them, and not only in terms of the taxpayer millions that are funneled to the company. When Boeing complained about paying too much for unemployment insurance and workers comp, for example, Washington state moved to reduce those costs to companies, putting more of the burden on the workers. The director of the Willow Run Airport rushed to say that insurance and workers comp costs to bosses in Michigan are already lower than those in Washington state. Another Michigan official said that "strong unions could deter Boeing" – an obvious attempt to scare workers into accepting low pay and harsh working conditions.

These bids and "incentive packages" are just another way for the bosses to extort concessions from workers, with the complicity of the politicians. They also show that there is money in the coffers of the states, contrary to what the same politicians claim when they cut jobs as well as funding from schools, health care and other social programs.

Use that money to serve the needs of the population!

The L.A. school district wants workers to give up 2½ paid days

Jun 23, 2003

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is proposing that its employees give up 2 ½ days of vacation or, in the case of teachers, classroom preparation days. The proposed furlough would mean a one% pay cut for the 80,000 workers of the district, which is the second-largest in the country. In addition, the LAUSD is planning to cut about 106 million dollars from the schools' discretionary spending, which is used for supplies, field trips, staff training and building maintenance.

With this new round of attack comes the usual excuse, and the usual threat: there is no money, and, if the workers don't accept these cuts, there will be layoffs.

But the LAUSD has already been cutting jobs, classes and services under the pretext of reduced funding from the state. What's the guarantee that these new cuts will stop future layoffs or further cuts?

Absolutely none. To the contrary – if workers give in, that will only encourage the district to come back for more, to take away more pay, benefits, jobs and services. That's exactly what's been going on in every industry.

At LAUSD and elsewhere, the one way we can save jobs is by saying "NO" and showing the bosses that we mean it. Defend our jobs by refusing every attack – on wages, benefits or jobs.

Just a "normal day" at Ford Rouge - two explosions and one fire

Jun 23, 2003

On Saturday, June 21st, two explosions occurred in Blast Furnace C of Rouge Steel in the Ford Rouge complex, in Dearborn, Michigan. The first explosion, due to a gas leak, took place about 7:15 in the morning. While the Fire department was there trying to put out the resulting fire, another explosion, due to a gas build-up, occurred, spewing rocks and bricks into the air. The explosions were felt in the neighborhood of South Dearborn, with black smoke billowing so high into the sky, it could be seen four miles north in the middle of Detroit.

Two workers sustained what news reports called "minor injuries" – one, had a concussion, and the second, was hit with falling debris.

News reports also downplayed the seriousness of the accident, quoting people saying, "no big thing – this is normal." Reporters were also quick to add that construction on the new Ford Truck Plant was not affected by the explosions and fires. In other words, don't worry. Everything is running like normal at the Rouge.

That's true. Because it isn't uncommon for explosions and fires to happen at the Rouge. The Ford Rouge complex has had a whole series of explosions and fires resulting in deaths and serious accidents in the last several years.

Since February of 1999, when the Powerhouse exploded, killing six workers and injuring 20 more, no fewer than 10 workers have been killed and no fewer than 35 workers have sustained injuries in the complex. Only last October, one worker was killed and another critically burned while cleaning in Blast Furnace B, adjacent to Saturday's incident.

Explosions and fires normal? Yes, because the Rouge complex IS unsafe, IS hazardous, IS a dangerous place to work.

Let the press try to put a different spin on what happened – it can't change this reality.

50 years after their execution:
The courage and integrity of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg still shines through

Jun 23, 2003

Half a century ago, on June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in Sing Sing Prison's electric chair for supposedly giving the key secret information to the Soviet Union that enabled it to build the atomic bomb.

The government case against the Rosenbergs, members of the Communist Party, hinged entirely on the testimony of a couple of witnesses with zero credibility.

The key witness against the Rosenbergs was Ethel's younger brother, David Greenglass. During World War II, Greenglass had been a machinist at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was developed. In order to get Greenglass to testify against Julius and Ethel, the government threatened to level charges of espionage against both Greenglass and his wife, and send them to prison forever. The Greenglasses gave in to government pressure and agreed to cooperate.

The story that Greenglass testified to defied all logic. According to Greenglass, Julius Rosenberg had asked him to get information on the design of the atomic bomb so that he could turn it over to the Russians. Greenglass said that he made sketches from memory on how the bomb was designed to detonate. Of course, Greenglass, who did not work on the bomb, would not have known anything about this work since the first atomic bombs were produced under the utmost secrecy. But even if he had somehow found information, in order to make those sketches from memory, Greenglass would have needed an advanced understanding of the physics, chemistry and mathematics of the atomic bomb. That is, Greenglass would have needed to be a highly trained scientist – which he was not.

The other witness against the Rosenbergs, Harry Gold, was even more shady. Gold was already serving a sentence of 30 years for espionage, when the government approached him with an offer to reduce his sentence if he testified to some ridiculous story about how Julius Rosenberg supposedly had him secretly pass on the sketches done by Greenglass of the atomic bomb's detonation device to the Russians. It took FBI agents over 400 hours to coach Gold about what he should say in the Rosenberg trial.

This travesty took place in the middle of the McCarthy period witch hunts. An atmosphere of hysteria and fear whipped up by the government permeated the entire society. This hysteria was used to justify the big attacks that the ruling class and its government carried out against the working class here in this country, first of all by purging it of most of the militants who had helped lead the big strikes and movements of the 1930s and 1940s. At the same time, the orchestrated hysteria was used to get the U.S. population to agree to pay for and sacrifice for all the U.S. wars, invasions and occupations that it was conducting against peoples over the four corners of the world: from Korea to the Caribbean Islands and Central America in this period.

To build on this hysteria, U.S. prosecutors had planned to make the Rosenberg trial the first in a series of spectacular espionage show trials. To do this, though, they needed the Rosenbergs' cooperation, that is, their agreement to help the government to frame up the top leaders of the U.S. Communist Party on the same kinds of trumped-up espionage cases that the Rosenbergs faced. Government prosecutors offered to spare the Rosenbergs their lives if they agreed to become stool pigeons. And the government kept this offer open up until the very moment that the executioner pulled the switch on the electric chair.

The Rosenbergs did not give in to this terrible blackmail. Instead, their resolute refusal to go along with it helped spark a mobilization against the McCarthy period attacks. Ethel and Julius paid the ultimate price – their own lives – to oppose government injustice and repression.

Page 8

Flight attendants try new union

Jun 23, 2003

Flight attendants at Northwest Airlines (NWA) voted in mid-June to leave the Teamsters union and set up the Professional Flight Attendants Association. It's unusual because this union was newly created from within their own ranks.

NWA flight attendants have been represented by the Teamsters for 26 years. Leaders of the new union say they started it because they were dissatisfied with Teamsters for accepting too many cutbacks in recent contracts. About two thousand Northwest attendants are currently laid off.

Teamster officials also made no friends when they recently removed elected officials from a flight attendants' local in Minneapolis and appointed new officials over the heads of the membership.

Attendants who organized and voted in the new union have clearly chosen this way to try to make a stand against Northwest's concession demands. It's not easy to organize a new union. Putting in that amount of work is an indicator of the level of workers' discontent.

The flight attendants face many difficulties. Perhaps the first difficulty will be to not assume that things will now automatically get better.

Regardless of the name of the union, workers must become active in it, make it their own voice and their own instrument. If this sort of work continues, the flight attendants will discover that they need to strengthen themselves by engaging other workers in struggles to match their own – no matter what names are on the union doors, no matter what names are on company headquarters.

Auto companies target health care

Jun 23, 2003

Last month, Ford Motor Company said it will increase what it charges salaried workers on their medical insurance. Deductibles will increase from $250 to $600. Prescription co-pays on generic drugs go up from $5 to $7. And out-of-pocket maximum costs go up from $500 to $1,000 per year.

This follows similar earlier actions by GM and Chrysler against its salaried workers and retirees.

It's no coincidence that new contracts with the automakers' hourly UAW workers must be negotiated this September. The hit against salaried workers sets the stage for company demands from the 262,000 UAW workers.

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger has repeatedly said that the UAW will hold the line on health care, that there will be no "cost-shifting." But then he goes on to say that he understands the companies' problem with medical costs and the UAW is willing to find ways to help them.

Nobody provides free health care. If the UAW is going to help a company lower medical costs, either workers will pay more – or get less care.

In fact, past UAW contracts have already followed this script. Repeatedly UAW leaders have proclaimed that they have "held the line" on health care benefits when they sent the contract out for a vote. But during the life of each new contract, workers find the hidden sacrifices. Certain procedures become "not covered" or covered only if workers use certain plans like the "foot care" plan. Drug co-pays go up in the middle of the contract. Or co-pays on doctors' visits doubled while those on emergency room visits went up $50 as workers in some PPO or HMO plans discovered this past February.

This is the way past UAW leaders have "held the line," while also "helping" the companies.

It's an expression of the union leadership's policy of "partnership" with management. The top leaders of the major unions in the U.S. stick to this policy, pretending that the workers can't do well unless their own boss does well. In fact, this "partnership" amounts to putting the bosses' interests first, and letting the workers' interests be damned.

Auto workers will need to be on guard this year – not only against open demands for concessions on health care – but also on guard against the habitual attempts of the UAW leadership to "help" these exceedingly rich companies by negotiating hidden concessions.

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